The release of Brittney Griner – the WNBA star who was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison on drug charges — is not a priority for the Kremlin despite calls from President Joe Biden to free the basketball player, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday, as the United States continues to push for her release and says her imprisonment is unjust.
Biden “is thinking first of all” about the upcoming midterm elections, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov said during an appearance on a Russian talk show, claiming that is why Biden is stressing the need to bring Griner home, according to translations by the state news agency TASS.
However, Griner’s release from prison “is not the main issue we are concerned about,” Ushakov said.
Grinner has expressed skepticism that the United States will be able to negotiate her release, the basketball star’s lawyer has said. “She is not yet fully convinced that America will be able to take her home,” Alexander Boykov said New York Times last week, saying she is “afraid she will have to serve the entire sentence here in Russia.”
On Wednesday, Biden said there had been “no movement” with Putin in relation to Griner’s release. Biden said last week that he has no plans to speak with Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Bali, but said he would meet if Putin agreed to discuss Griner.
Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport, where Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to drug charges in July, saying she had no intention of breaking Russian law and packed the cartridges in her bag by mistake. Griner was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison in August. Griner’s lawyers appealed against the verdict, and a hearing is scheduled for later this month. The Biden administration has criticized Russia for holding Griner and tried to negotiate Griner and Whalen’s releases as part of a prisoner exchange. The White House has been doing business with a Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States after being convicted of conspiring to sell millions of dollars in weapons to the Colombian terrorist group FARC. Last month, Biden met with The Griner and Whalen families in the White House. Griner’s arrest and conviction coincided with a collapse in Relations between the United States and Russia to the lowest point in decades during Russian invasion of Ukraine.